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Analysis of the Kenyan political landscape

July 5, 2010

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to share my analysis of the Kenyan political landscape with the Africa Today show on Bay Area radio station KPFA.  Primarily donning my Political Scientist hat, I sought to explain the ongoing transition to democracy in Kenya as a long term affair and one election (2002) does not a transition make.  From this long perspective, the violence that rocked the country after the 2007 elections should not have been that surprising and the ongoing rift about the constitution is also expected.

On the whole, however, I remain optimistic about Kenya’s prospect of completing the transition with my main concern the kind of ‘nation’ we will create along the way.  The challenges posed by the ongoing transition are also tremendous opportunities for civil society to act and shape a new conversation about Kenya, one that challenges the ethnic entrepreneurship of the political elites.

The extensive interview is now available online and now below.  (the first couple of minutes include station announcements so skip ahead a bit)

Africa Today with Walter Turner
Mondays 7 pm – 8 pm

A weekly news program providing information and analysis about Africa and the African Diaspora. Africa Today seeks to update listeners on contemporary developments in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and the United States. The program utilizes an interview and discussion format to explore political, social, economic, and cultural themes relative to the African experience.

About Walter
He is a Professor of History and Chairperson of the Social Sciences Department at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California, instructing courses in United States History, African History, and African American History. Walter is also President of the Board of Directors of Global Exchange, and is an African News analyst for Pacifica Radio Station KPFA.
Live on KPFA at 07:00 PM Pacific Time: Mondays
This program alternates with other programs in this time slot. See the KFPA Program Grid for more details.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 5, 2010 2:58 PM

    Thank you very much for this conversation. I am unfortunately much less inclined to optimism than Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg, although, given that she knows Kenya a thousand times better than I do, I probably shouldn’t be. Yet it concerns me that to speak as Wanjiru does of “ongoing transition to democracy” begs the question. I worry that the patronage democracy now obtaining in Kenya does not necessarily represent a stage on a long road from the one-party state of the 1970s and 1980s to authentic democracy.

    I grant that British colonial tax-farming and divide-and-rule policies fostered a tradition of the strongman—equally practiced at dispensing favors to chosen segments of the populace to secure their help in his accumulation of wealth and power, and at defending his authoritarian rule based on its alleged speed and efficiency relative to democracy. And I grant that, half a century after independence, one can assume Kenyans possess the political maturity to see through the strongman’s double-dealing. While conceding my modest knowledge of Kenyan history, however, I suspect its people needed nothing approaching half a century to grasp the need for a different kind of politics.

    Patronage democracy could become firmly entrenched in Kenya, I fear, but not because its people can’t grow up politically; they’ve already grown up. The problem is that this impostor of democracy can retain its appeal to a critical mass of people for generations as long as generations of politicians retain their fathers’ skills at dispensing favors and at demagoguing against the trust—hence the vulnerability—crucial to authentic democracy. Because certain attractions accrue inherently to patronage democracy, one cannot assume its demise.

    I want to stress that I’ve not made a prediction, only voiced an anxiety. To the extent Kenyans hear intelligent and informed critical voices like Wanjiru’s, we can expect that critical mass of people in the grip of patronage democracy to grow increasingly tired of the favors and the demagoguing.

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